Insects, Man and Environment: Who Will Survive?

  • Joop C. Van Lenteren


Insects form the most diverse group of organisms, both in number of species (80 per cent of the animal kingdom) as well as in variation of biological characteristics and functions. Man has been interested mainly in two categories of insects: harmful and beneficial species. These two categories comprise only a few thousand of the millions of insect species. A vast group of insects is classified as neutral, which is a rather trivial term because these species are essential components of the world’s ecosystems, and thereby, contribute to man’ s long-term well being.

Before the development of synthetic pesticides around 1945, the role of entomologists in agriculture and medicine had been principally viewed as positive, but their accomplishments since then have been much debated. Although food production has increased and tropical vector-borne diseases have decreased because of entomological research, the manner in which these results were achieved — the production and application of environmentally hazardous biocides with the goal of exterminating pest species — was questionable, to put it mildly. Ecologists have voiced their concern almost immediately after the initiation of pesticide usage and continue to do so. Policy makers and politicians are now comprehending — almost 40 years after the first warnings — the environmental risks of pesticides and, accordingly, governments are currently changing crop and disease protection programmes.

The role of entomologists in helping to improve the environment is to be effected via the development of ecologically safer methods of pest and vector control by an increased use of nature’s inventories (e.g. breeding of resistant plants and biological control). A more general issue of much greater priority is how changes can be effected on mankind’s perspectives towards nature. Should we continue to exploit nature as we have done over the past three centuries, the extermination of mankind rather than of insects would be more probable, due to the inherently greater survival capacity of the latter.

Key Words

Chemical Pest Control Entomology Integrated Farming Nature Attitudes Non-chemical Pest Control Pest Control Policy 


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Copyright information

© Elsevier Science Publishers Ltd 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joop C. Van Lenteren
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of EntomologyWageningen Agricultural UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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